Often times we look back with limited sight on a successful race we had in the past and think "I've got it! A formula for success! THIS is what I need to do to have great races from now on! I'll train exactly how I trained for my last race and I'll always run like I did when I PR'd!"
Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Trust me, I WISH it was...
I've been studying my mileage data for the past few years pretty thoroughly gearing up for Western States 100 on June 27. It's always tricky balancing a training schedule to build for a true "peak". What I see are some drastically different months of training over the past year. There are several months in which I average low mileage back to back. Some months are as low as 50-60 miles per week...then on the flip side, there are months in which I average 100 miles per week.
I gauge success over long periods of time...how one fairs in the long haul.
Looking back at my past year I couldn't be happier. In 2014 I ran some low mileage months in January through March to leave some gas in the tank for my main goals in the summer. I was pretty spent from high mileage over the fall and needed to step back. As mentioned, I also wanted to save some energy for the summer. A big focus of my year was the Hawthorn Half Day Run in June. (In 2013 I broke the previous Hawthorn CR running 78 miles in 12 hours but I was beat out in a near photo finish...I knew I could improve upon that. Training in May held a lot of 100 mile weeks and the week before the race I even got in a 19 hour week with nearly 120 trail miles. I played my cards right and ran 81.5 miles at Hawthorn and set a new course record as was the goal.)
I recovered well after Hawthorn and then got in some more high volume weeks over 100mpw before the Burning River 100 which was the first of August. I had a strong run at Burning River and was lucky enough to come away with a run in which I won, but most importantly, a run in which I ran at my potential and felt strong.
The months following Burning River held more strong races and more tightwalking the fine line of recovery, training, and racing. By the time I got to Tunnel Hill 100, I was wasted. I ran a "decent" race at TH100 in November. I ran too many in the weeks leading up to Tunnel though. Any 100 mile run is truly something to be grateful for and something to be proud of but I ran below my potential due to fatigue. I finished in 16 hours and could've finished in the 14's. It's wasn't a bad run, it just wasn't great, and definitely wasn't what I'm capable of. (...placement has little bearing on your success at a race. You never know who will show up...only YOU or your coach know if you've run your true potential and at Tunnel Hill I did NOT.)
It was time to back off.
I cut mileage down to 50 mile weeks again and ran very little in between TH100 and Lookout Mountain 50 in December. Recovery proved to be effective as I felt really good at Lookout, which is a technical, tough, mountain 50.
In winter and early spring I stayed with my low mileage plan and raced stronger than ever before my yearly rest period in April.
We don't need to get wrapped up in mileage and concerns of "Are we doing enough?" We can run at near our potential year round if we cycle our training periods and volume along with intensity. Cycling periods of several months of recovery and maintenance mileage along with periods where we focus on high volume is the way to stay strong and fit year round. We can try to be proactive and plan these periods but we never know exactly when we will need to switch models.
This is why it is so important to keep great records of our data and continually evaluate our moods and attitudes towards training. If we find we're falling short of our potential then maybe we need to back off and cut our mileage for a while.If we haven't been putting in a lot of effort in our runs lately because "life" has gotten in the way, perhaps the key to success is letting go of the things in life that are distracting us from training. We might just need a few high mileage, high volume months to build our engines to capacity.
Set Goals and look at past successes and failures. Leave a small margin of error and work patiently towards a track record of success, making small incremental adjustments to build a race resume you can be proud of. Find what inspires you and work to reach those goals. You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to be willing listen to your body.
There is no set "formula" for success. As much as all of this is a science, it takes an analysts and artists mind to interpret the endless variables and move forward with a game plan for peak adaptations to training and recovering from the load we've placed on ourselves.
As for me, I'm back to high volume. I typically race strong in June after recovering in April and I look forward to Western States 100! I'm feeling pretty good right about now although I'd like to have more miles under my belt. Only a few weeks ago I felt like I was way behind the curve but as usual I'm always shocked how quick form and endurance comes back. It's gonna be a fun day in California.